Is it possible for conservation-minded nature photographers to create work with an artistic slant and still maintain good standing among their peers? More importantly, is it possible for these photographers to positively support the causes that they hold dear, without crossing the line into morally and ethically questionable territory? After all, the world is full of skeptics and any opportunity to denounce certain efforts will surely be pounced upon. These are questions that often keep me up at night.
Everyone has their viewpoints and I am certainly not the wisest in the bunch. However, it seems to me that if photographers cease to feel comfortable exploring creative ways to shed new light on the natural world and its wonders, plight and existence to the viewing public, then are we not ultimately bowing to fickle public perceptions anyway?
I can think of no other photographer that I hold in higher regard than Jim Brandenburg. He has done it all and has shot his fair share of powerful, documentary style images for National Geographic and other high-standing organizations. However, in recent years, artistically toned books such as the incredibly inspiring "Looking for the Summer," have captured the public's imagination. I would wager that this isn't due simply to the subject matter, as painful as it may be for some to admit.
And what of the Frans Lanting's and Art Wolfe's of the world? Does the work of these two goliaths of nature photography, whose work is laden with creative uses of lighting, motion blurs and the like not constitute artistry? Are these two bodies of work now rendered null because of the invention of digital photography and Photoshop? I seriously have my doubts. Besides, if anyone really wants to find out whether an image is authentic or not (like this chronically Googled, truly amazing shot by Thomas P. Peschak) they always have Snopes.
In a perfect world, everyone would be in love with nature just for what it is. The problem is that many (if not most) people simply don't see the natural world like those of us who spend our time desperately trying to show others what it is all about. We know it is amazing and vitally important but there are so many who don't...and don't care, I suspect.
How about the photo at the top of this post? I didn't anything to alter the physical nature of the scene. However, what I did do was use a warming gel on my SB900 flash to change the mood of the image. I also used a wide-angle lens, which altered the angle of the trees to some degree. Does this count as morally objectionable manipulation?
Please share your thoughts with me on this if you wouldn't mind. It would be insightful to hear how other photographers, and non-photographers for that matter, react to this issue. I am certainly still trying to find my own way through the wilderness and company would be most welcome!